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Business to Everyone: Expanding B2B Boundaries

The Internet is reshaping many things, including the handling of customer relationships. Different market segments demand different treatments. B2B selling models are typically more complicated, involving buyers with unique business requirements and multiple buyers from the same company. Expanding sales channels in a cost-effective manner is key. In comparison, B2C models are more personalized and focus on individuals' specific needs. Creating customer loyalty and repeat purchasing is key.

However, in this new, Internet- savvy world, the line between B2C and B2B e-business is blurring. B2B buyers increasingly expect B2C-like personalized experiences, while B2C companies are looking to extend their sales models to new markets. As a result, B2C initiatives now require complex guided selling as well as configuration and order-management capabilities traditionally found in B2B e-commerce, while B2B e-commerce initiatives now include features more typical of B2C offerings such as ratings, reviews and promotions.

The fast-moving convergence of B2C and B2B business models has created a new “Business-to-Everyone”, or B2E, paradigm in which providing customers with a unique and personalized experience with quick and easy access to the right products and services is the rule, not the exception. B2E means that, in an increasingly commoditized product world, customers base their buying decisions more often on a company's ability to satisfy their particular needs, provide a complete solution while coordinating with multiple parties, offer the right pricing and provide visibility to critical process information.

The Buying Experience Must Be Holistic

In the B2E world of e-commerce, self-service options need to enable potential buyers to quickly and easily find, configure and purchase the right products and services at the right price while being easily searchable and intuitive. This process must be dynamically transactional: capturing, distributing and fulfilling orders promptly and accurately while providing status and details on demand throughout the fulfillment process.

B2E initiatives also must integrate with traditional selling processes. For example, Web self-service interactions must instill customer confidence by allowing them to contact the sales representative for help if necessary and also check on order status by any means they choose, be it over the phone, through e-mail or in person.

If channel partners, distributors and resellers are part of the sales model, the automated sales experience must also synchronize with them. You accomplish this through personalized storefronts and catalogs with specific pricing for their partners.

For companies with multiple products and services, having a flexible platform that enables them to offer multidivisional products/solutions is essential. As such, the platform also must be able to integrate into multiple back-end systems.

Case in Point

Consider a leading systems integrator and provider of innovative technology and supply chain solutions to the commercial, government and telecom markets. Managing more than 600,000 SKUs so that customers can find the right products and then generate quotes, place and change orders, and view their business transactions with the company was not so easy. They decided to build an e-business solution to provide major accounts with their own storefronts where they could purchase standardized products.

The new e-business solution enables customers to get rich product information, including reviews and comparisons, through an online interface — capabilities characteristic of the B2C world. The integrator also has been able to expand its offering beyond IT products into selling office supplies and business equipment.

Planning for B2E Success

Although the blurring of B2C and B2B will have a powerful effect on business, it will not erase the differences that exist between these markets. However, it is clear that B2B companies now need to provide their customers with product and service catalogs, standardized pricing, promotions, order management, fulfillment and service. A B2E e-business solution must support all these capabilities.

Companies that understand the Internet's impact has on consumer expectations and are actually able to provide an experience that meets each of their customers' unique preferences, whether they are B2C or B2B, will be the ones that find success.

Ken Ramoutar is director of Global Product Marketing for Sterling Commerce, one of the world's largest providers of multienterprise collaboration software and services. Ramoutar leads the go-to-market strategies for Sterling Commerce applications, including the development and communication of long- and short-term marketing strategies and objectives, as well as serving as the solution spokesperson to internal organizations, customers, partners, industry analysts and the press. For more information, visit www.sterlingcommerce.com.

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